Voices in the Walls 2

Yesterday I told you how Voices in the Walls began, then stalled. Part of the problem lies in what I would call my philosophy of fiction, if I were inclined toward formality and talked like a critic.

I don’t think first in terms of plot and action. Before I know the details of my story, I get to know my main character. I get to know his strengths and – more importantly – his weaknesses. I don’t care as much how he is going to get from A to B, as I care why he wants to get from A to B.

Of course, that isn’t the whole story or I would be writing sermons instead of novels. How a character achieves his goals, or fails to achieve them, is the backbone of fiction. I work very hard to make the plot move forward through scenes which are both exciting and believable. But that is the job of day to day writing. I don’t want to know the details of what is going to happen the my people too far in advance.

I usually know generally where my novel is going, and I know exactly why it is going there. I know in some detail the events of the next few chapters, but the rest of the story is as much a surprise to me as it is to my characters.

Did I mention that I rewrite a lot?

*****

My main character, Matt Williams is a personal surrogate. That’s a bit more than saying that he is based on my personal experiences. He exists to work out the same issues I had to work out when I was his age.

My personal story – on the surface anyway – would freeze me at the keyboard, unable to type because of sheer boredom. The issues that moved me, however, are important. I can off load them onto Matt, then dump him into the last days of peace just before the beginning of the Civil War, and now we’ll have a story people will read.

As I explained Monday over in A Writing Life, I was raised white in a white town, with no black people in sight. I had no opinions of my own on race, but the opinions around me were all negative. When the civil rights movement began, what I saw on television convinced me that everyone around me was wrong, and the black people were right.

That’s a story worth a novel, but not the kind of novel I write. I lived it, but I wouldn’t want to read it.

Dumping it onto Matt Williams’ head, however, changes everything.

*****

Enough chit chat for now. Tomorrow we’ll look at the prolog to Voices, and talk more later.     more tomorrow

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